By Barb Ward from an interview with Holly LeMaster

We are almost two years into the covid-19 pandemic, and there is still no finish line in sight. Organizations and their people are in a constant state of flux. As the reality has begun to set in – that there actually will be no finish line — we as individuals have had to shift our thinking and our way of being. What’s more, our organizations and our teams have had to redefine themselves, looking for new ways to accommodate a continually evolving organizational climate.

While the “future of work” has long been a topic for discussion and planning as organizations position themselves to remain competitive in the marketplace technologically, generationally, and through social shifts, the pandemic has brought a whole new sense of urgency and surfaced a number of new issues. According to McKinsey Global Institute, the pandemic accelerated existing trends in remote work, e-commerce, and automation with up to 25 percent more workers than previously estimated needing to switch occupations.

Add this to “The Great Resignation,” (the term coined to describe vast numbers of employees currently resigning from their positions), and you can see that the pandemic has changed everything; from the way people do the work, to the work people are willing to do, to the geography of where they can and are willing to work. For some, these changes have been highly unsettling; for others, change has illuminated their values. For all—the organization, the team, and the individual—the implications are much deeper and multi-faceted than originally anticipated.

Holly LeMaster, a leadership consultant for Innovative Connections, Inc., works with executives in a variety of industries. She says, “What we’re finding as we help survey employees within these organizations is that people’s motivations have changed. Some are willing to leave their jobs if certain requirements (for example, the ability to work from home) are not met. If they are close to retirement, they may no longer want to keep up the grind. Younger employees are looking for meaning—they want to work for an organization whose values match theirs. They have different expectations about work-life balance.”

Now, as they evaluate the future of work, leaders must consider a multitude of new criteria, including:

  • working from home vs. working in the office, and the complexities of managing the hybrid of both
  • compensation or other equity for employees who do not have the option to work from home
  • facility needs – dedicated space vs. common space for a shrinking in-office workforce
  • required in-office time for teams to meet face-to-face vs. teams working independently
  • policies around flexible hours
  • maintaining the organization’s values and culture amid the changing workforce
  • IT and digital strategies to meet both employees’ and consumers’ changing needs

The list goes on and it can be overwhelming. “Leaders have had to rethink every decision they’ve traditionally made to keep their workforce engaged and happy,” says LeMaster. “There is really no going back to the way things used to be, and the future continues to be ambiguous. We’ve been able to help leaders have the right conversations to positively impact everything from their staff to their facilities to their customer relationships. It is hard work.”

As if all of the impact on the organization were not enough, leaders also need to consider the fact that the pandemic has affected everyone differently. Some people have benefited from it: they have been able to spend more time with family, pick up hobbies they didn’t have time for before, and even reassess where they are going in their lives and career. And others have suffered crushing losses, feelings of disconnectedness, financial hardships, and anxiety at the isolation and not knowing what is coming next. It takes empathy and presence to really hear what people are saying and what they value, and then take all of that into consideration when making decisions that affect these people and, in turn, the organization.

“All of these elements are shaping the evolving cultures of our organizations. The only constant is change,” says LeMaster. “And leaders need to know that the only way forward is to cope and be resilient.”

Here are some tips for being resilient in the face of chaos:

Embrace new possibilities – Letting go of what is familiar is hard. If you can flip the script and look at the possibilities of what you can gain rather than what you are losing through the change, it can help ease the transition.

Continue moving forward—even a small step can propel you into action. Breaking tasks down into smaller pieces can help you steadily progress to a better place.

Practice self-care—Make sure you are fueling your body with proper nourishment as well as physical activity. It can be difficult to feel motivated, but these activities help you cope with chaos more effectively.

Be mindful—Take a few moments to write in a gratitude journal, spend time outdoors, meditate, engage in activities you enjoy, create something. Do anything that gives your mind a break and provides you with a new sort of control over your situation.

Realize you are not alone—Seek relationships that build you up. You are not alone in the way you are feeling, and by sharing common feelings and reactions you help yourself and others cope through hard times. Connection helps fill your bucket when it’s been depleted by circumstances.

While it’s impossible to predict the final impact; and we know there will be no finish line, you can be sure that, by building your resilience, having the right conversations, and working hard to build a more dynamic, stronger workforce today, you will move your organization; and your people in the right direction for the future.